by Kellee Faulconbridge, INALJ contributor
What I Learned from My Internship in a Scientific Librarian in Germany
While in graduate school I met an amazing classmate whose career had taken her to niche libraries in Geneva, The Hague, and all over Europe working for organization like Cern and the International Court of Justice. It was during our course when she informed me of an internship at a scientific library in Heidelberg, Germany where she had previously worked and encouraged me to apply. Although my mind is not a scientific one and my German is atrocious, I decided to spend the summer applying what I had studied in my master’s course. Yet in this position I learned far more than I anticipated (but is that not always the way), below are a few of the lessons I wish to share:
1. Work in a small library if you can: With a team of three, I was given the opportunity to work on every aspect of the library life. I had ample time and support to ask all the question I needed. I had the ability to use my creativity to suggest new and fresh ideas. Working with a close knit team was an excellent way to learn about what I like and dislike about library work. Compared with working in a large university library, where it was sometimes hard to find someone to answer a question, having my co-workers three feet from my desk made it easier to form a working relationship.
2. How to work in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment: While English was the official working language, German, French, and many other languages would greet you in the hallways. While it was exciting to compare notes with people from around the world, the communication lapses created for funny moments. Not everyone works at the same pace or in a similar style, it was interesting learning to adjust to expectations through cultural barriers. A few weeks into the internship, my boss handed me a sheet outlining working differences between Germans and Americans. It was a humorous gesture, but while I had thought everything was going smoothly this gesture alerted me to the fact that he felt there was something amiss.
3. You can never be too detailed: Although I consider myself extremely organized and a perfectionist, I found my German boss took it to a whole new level. I eventually figured out his criticisms were supposed to help me, which I did appreciate. The whole point of an internship is to learn and improve one’s skills, although I had worked many jobs I had never had so much attention solely on me. I learned to work with his managerial style and found this to be just one more cultural difference I was not used to; and that being critiqued is a valuable way to learn.
4. Know what type of person you are: I am a people person, I love to work and interact with people. At a research facility I found that few people utilized the physical library, the majority of the resources were online; one of the projects I worked on was weeding the collection of print based materials as so few people used them. The lack of interaction with others was isolating. I also had to consider my audience when working with materials or social media; prior to this position I knew very few scientist, what would they find interesting and appealing? I developmental many friendship at EMBL, trying to understand the people I was working for.
While I enjoyed my brief time working in Germany and learned a lot about libraries and myself, I am not sure I would want a full time job as a scientific librarian. While my interest in science grew during this time, I am not sure that it was enough of an interest to pursue a career in the field. My time in this post was an educational experience in so many ways and something a little different than what I expected going into the field of librarianship.
Kellee Faulconbridge graduated from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland in December 2014 with a MSc in Information & Library Studies. She has worked in archival, academic library, and museum environments. She has studied and worked in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Originally from Pittsburgh, she likes to travel, read, and drink entirely too much tea. You can follow Kellee on her WordPress site Kellee Lives In Aberdeen.